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Cubs get Craig Kimbrel for bargain

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Last night’s news that the Cubs got Craig Kimbrel has big implications for the 2019 NL Central race. The Cubs and Brewers seem poised to fight it out all year long and the Cubs — whose bullpen has been beset with injuries — are making a significant improvement in landing one of the most dominant closers of the past decade. The baseball calculus is pretty clear here. The Cubs got better.

The Cubs got better pretty dang cheaply, too. They’ll pay Kimbrel $10 million in 2019, and $16 million over each of the next two seasons. Even the sometimes shaky Kimbrel we saw late last season is worth that kind of risk. It’s simply not major money for a pitcher of his caliber in this day and age. Heck, he’s making less than new teammate Tyler Chatwood is in 2019 and, over the course of their respective three-year contracts, Kimbrel will only make $5 million more in total. Even if you didn’t pro-rate his 2019 salary and paid him $16 million, he’d be only the seventh-highest paid reliever in the game.

There are a lot of reasons for that, of course. Kimbrel was reported to be asking for a monster contract last offseason and, while all such reports must be taken with a grain of salt — teams love to portray free agents as unreasonable to justify a lack of interest to fans and free agents love to portray teams as cheap to put pressure on teams to sign them — that likely scared some suitors away. He had draft pick compensation tied to him until this past Monday, too.

Still, this deal is pretty team-friendly, even with those considerations attached. While the reported $100 million Kimbrel was allegedly asking for last winter seemed out of line, most experts were projecting deals north of $60 million for Kimbrel. Most experts also figured on a four or five year deal for the guy. In no event did anyone think he’d get less than what the Rockies gave Wade Davis before the 2018 season. Davis, while excellent, did not have the track record Kimbrel had and got a three-year, $52M deal. And that was despite the fact that he, unlike Kimbrel as of this week, had a qualifying offer attached to him. You’d think Davis’ deal would’ve been the floor, but nope.

I have to think that if Kimbrel is anywhere close to his usual self for the rest of the year that he couldn’t gone back out on the market this winter and done better between 2020-21 than he’ll do under this deal. Still, it’s hard to blame him for not wanting to endure even the chance of another seven months in limbo like he’s just finishing, so Kimbrel trading some dollars for some security in terms of years is hard to knock.

Mike Leake loses perfect game bid on leadoff single in the ninth

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Just one week after Taylor Cole and Felix Peña tossed a combined no-hitter against Seattle, Mariners right-hander Mike Leake worked on his own perfect game through eight innings against the Angels.

It was an ambitious form of revenge, and one that Leake served up perfectly as he held the Angels scoreless in frame after frame. He sprinkled a handful of strikeouts throughout the first eight innings, catching Matt Thaiss on a called strike three in the third and getting two whiffs — called strikeouts against both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani — in the fourth.

The Mariners, meanwhile, put up a good fight against the Angels, backing Leake’s attempt with 10 runs — their first double-digit total since a 13-3 rout of the Orioles on June 23. Daniel Vogelbach led things off in the fourth with a three-run homer off of reliever Jaime Barria, then repeated the feat with another three-run shot off Barria in the fifth. Tom Murphy and J.P. Crawford helped pad the lead as well with a two-RBI single and two-RBI double, respectively.

In the ninth, with just three outs remaining, the Angels finally managed to break through. Luis Rengifo worked a 1-1 count against Leake, then returned an 85.3-m.p.h. changeup to right field for a base hit, dismantling the perfecto and the no-hitter in one fell swoop. Leake lost control of the ball following the hit, issuing four straight balls to Kevan Smith in the next at-bat and giving the Angels their first runner in scoring position. Still at a pitch count of just 90, however, he induced the next two outs in quick fashion and polished off the win with a triumphant eight-pitch strikeout against Mike Trout for the first one-hitter (and Maddux) of his career.

Had Leake successfully closed out the perfecto, it would’ve been the first of his decade-long career in the majors and the first the Mariners had seen since Félix Hernández’s perfect game against the Rays in August 2012. For their part, the Angels have yet to be on the losing end of a perfecto. The last time they were shut out in a no-hitter was 1999, at the hands of then-Twins pitcher Eric Milton.